Juwairiya Mohideen is a Sri Lankan Muslim woman human rights defender based in Puttalam in the North West of Sri Lanka. She and her family are part of the northern muslim community that were forcibly displaced by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in October 1990. They arrived in Puttalam with nothing more than a few items of clothing and were forced to rebuild from scratch. 30 years later, she continues to live in a refugee settlement in Puttalam. Juwairiya started her work with the Rural Development Foundation providing support for the IDP community for 15 years. During this time, she identified a critical gap in dedicated support for women and girls within the local human rights/humanitarian aid sector. In 2010 she joined the Women’s Action Network which comprises of 9 women’s rights organizations operating in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The same year she also established the Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), on which she serves as the Executive Director.
In over 25 years of work, Juwariya has been a vocal advocate against discrimination and violence against women and girls. MWDT provides daily practical support, comfort, advice and legal assistance to women and girls facing abuse, violence and discrimination. Juwairiya is at the front line of calls for reform in Muslim personal laws which deny Muslim women and girls the basic rights enjoyed by their non-muslim sisters in Sri Lanka. The blatantly discriminatory law has been defended vigorously by religious extremists and male led conservative groups which enjoy positions of privilege and power within the community and among national decision/policy makers. Juwairiya has been undeterred by threats against her and her family, blatant misinformation and attacks on her character and being labelled as a traitor and shunned by parts of her close knit community. She continues to mobilise successfully among local women and girls supporting encouraging them to occupy pubic spaces traditionally ear marked for men, and share their testimony of discrimination and violence under muslim personal laws.
Juwairiya has led delegations of Muslim women on the streets, to lobby with parliamentarians and been a clear counter to the conservative narrative that muslim women are content with the status quo. She also works with networks of families of the disappeared from all affected communities and has been a key figure in advocacy on their rights to redress including truth, accountability and reparations. In addition to threat from her own community, Juwairiya also suffers surveillance by state intelligence officers, who in the past three months following the presidential election have questioned her about her work, funding, staff and local partners. Despite the risks, Juwairiya is determined and confident that the work will continue not only because the need is so great for individual cases – but also because broader reform on Muslim personal laws and victims of human rights violations are essential to the dignity and survival of those directly affected.